ORLANDO — “Beer: The Musical” has about as simple a plot as they get: college students gather at parties, drink beer, and then lose all their inhibitions.
That is, with the exception of one freshman student, the ironically named Bud Miller, who comes to this southern school from the Midwest, where he never developed a taste for alcohol. That turns out to be a blessing when Bud attracts the eye of a sweet girl who thinks beer turns her classmates into drunken, sex-crazed clowns; she prefers a guy who stays away from that ugly scene.
All goes well until Bud is lured to one party one night where his classmates are chugging beer, and they start applying some major peer pressure on him to do the same …. and before you know it, Bud isn’t acting quite the same. He’s stumbling around the room, behaving in a silly manner, saying and doing stupid things …. and how particularly embarrassing it is when his girlfriend walks in and discovers him this way …
It all seems to prove what our narrator, the PSA Guy, warns us throughout the play: that the availability of beer on a college campus is a recipe for disaster. Did you know that beer can lead to pregnancy? STDs? Ruined lives? With his righteous, sanctimonious tone, our PSA GUY is like the voyeur outside the porn shop who denouces the sin and filth inside … but can’t resist peeking in the window every few minutes.
So what do we have here? Not much in the way of plot, no real character development, totally exaggerated situations …. and great fun! “Beer: The Musical” is a campy hoot, almost as if the writers took a page from the likes of “Reefer Madness” and added songs to it. It’s a sendup of an anti-beer campaign, as written by prohibitionists who haven’t caught up with modern entertainment for about three decades. The notion that beer is liable to lead to this much college mayhem would probably cause fits of laughter among today’s university presidents, who understand it’s probably the least of their worries … which is the joke behind the clever setup by writer/director Tymothi Claude. These days, if we’re going to start worrying about beer consumption, we might as well never leave our homes and sell nothing but skim milk, 1 percent fat content.
Put that way, “Beer: The Musical” sounds like a one-joke piece that runs out of ideas long before the hour is over. Well, not quite. For one thing, there are some great songs mixed in here, that cleverly exploit the basic concept — and none, I think, more uniquely appealing than a gentle, romantic love ballad sung by the gross, drunken frat guy and the easy girl who’ll sleep with anybody after she consumes a few beers. They explain, in his beautiful number, why they’re going from the party to the bedroom. It’s beer …. that wicked destroyer of good moral inhibitions. Performed in a style that might make Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond look on with envy, the mix of romantic tone and crude skank lyrics is hilarious.
“Beer: The Musical” actually feels a bit like “Grease,” another play with a loose plot, this one about students in the 1950s who get into similar hijinks. The lack of plot actually works well for both musicals, as you get caught up in knowing that our symbol of innocent, Bud, is heading down a path toward destruction, with the opportunity for great laughs along the way. Claude delivers, as does Ross Black, who never overplays good-guy Bud but instead makes him seem like the embodiment of an Archie’s comic come to life.
Equally good is Christian Checker as the overbearing PSA Guy, although the entire cast has such great comedic timing, expert dance moves and stunning vocal talent that the play is a winner from the opening number. There’s plenty of beer-induced trouble brewing at Florida University College (and yes, we all know what that stands for). Just be glad we’re all invited to the party.
“Beer: The Musical” is being performed at the 20th Annual Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival, in the Orange Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre. There are opportunities to catch it today at 1:40 p.m., Tuesday at 7:25 p.m., Wednesday at 11:30 p.m., Friday at 7:25 p.m., and Sunday, May 29 at 4:20 p.m. And keep in mind that the Fringe Beer Tent is open on the lawn of Loch Haven Park, because it might be a nice idea to — you guessed it — get a beer before you head in to see this show. You’ll be glad you did.
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